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How Generosity At Work Saved A Local Business

A Generosity at Work story from my hometown!

When I was getting my start-of-the-semester haircut in February, I was surprised to see Hannah, the woman who cuts my teenagers’ hair, working in the hair salon I go to.  

Hannah normally works at Parlor, which has a hipster clientele. Yet here she was at Aesthetica, where they play 90’s alternative rock for us olds.  What was Hannah doing at Aesthetica, I wondered? Had she defected from Parlor to a new workplace?

I asked my personal stylist and informal consulting client, Legia, what was happening.

Just a week earlier, Parlor’s salon had gone up in flames.  Some electrical issues at the wine shop next door. It would be at least two months, if not three, before the salon would be renovated and open for business again. In the meantime, 12 stylists had nowhere to go and no way to serve their clients. None of the stylists could afford two months without a paycheck.

An owner of another salon in downtown Montclair had an idea — why not have Parlor’s stylists work in the empty chairs of the salons nearby?

In Montclair' competitive hair salon marketplace, this idea was a little surprising. Why? 

Salons grow their businesses mostly by luring clients away from one another, not by the growth or change in the local population. Clients can switch easily from one stylist and salon to another. 

For Parlor, there were lots of reasons not to send its stylists to other salons. 

  •   Stylists might defect from Parlor to the salons hosting them. 
  •   Parlor clients might like the temporary salon better, and move their business away from Parlor. 
  •   Scheduling appointments with clients and managing payments would put all of Parlor's customer information in the hands of competitors.  
  •   Clients might just get confused and leave Parlor’s stylists altogether.    

But the alternatives for Parlor, of staying closed, leaving their stylists temporarily unemployed and abandoning their clients, seemed worse. 

For the potential host salons, there were obstacles too. 

Their own clients might see a ‘new’ stylist and consider switching to her. Additional stylists and clients might add to the wait time a the shampoo sink as well as the garbage and laundry. How would their own receptionists schedule appointments for someone else, and manage the payments to visiting stylist not on the actual payroll?   

There was not a lot in it for the hosting salons, but a half-dozen owners teamed up with the owner of Parlor to work out a plan.

For the past two months, pairs of Parlor stylists have been working with their own clients, but at one of the hosting salons. The stylists move to a different salon every week, so they don’t get too comfortable or feel awkward for too long (depending on their fit with the current host salon’s vibe).  Appointments are handled by Parlor’s owner, and payments are handled by each Stylist on her iPhone (thanks to Square).  Each host salon figured out a way to charge the Parlor stylists for the products they used on their clients, not making extra money on this but also not losing money either.  So far,only one of Parlor’s stylists chose to move permanently to a new salon.

Parlor’s business — at least the bulk of it — was saved by the generosity of its competitors.

I asked Legia how she and the stylists at Aesthetica felt about hosting the Parlor folks.   What did they and the host salons get out of the deal? 

They didn’t get any publicity, because the arrangement was not discussed in the newspaper article about the fire. (I had to be curious, and have noticed the new stylists in the first place.)

Well, for one thing, Legia told me, she'd learned a new blowdrying technique by watching one of the Parlor stylists at work.  She and another Parlor stylist had chatted about managing difficult clients, and had collaborated when a client came in for a hair color emergency. (Apparently, blue hair didn’t look good on her. Who’d a thunk?) 

Yes, it was a bit awkward having these guest stylists visit at Aestherica. The visiting stylists kept a little separate, and some of them dressed and styled themselves rather differently from the norm at the host salons.  Some of the stylists were not as quick to clean up after themselves as was the norm at Aesthetica. There was a little awkwardness about how much any of the host stylists should interact with the clients of the visitors, and that sort of thing.  But overall, it hadn’t felt like a burden at all.

Instead, there’d been a palpable feeling of camaraderie, of professionalism, and of local pride in being part of each other’s community.

This story made me wonder how many other acts of collective, business-to-business generosity go undetected.

Maybe Generosity At Work is less uncommon than I’ve thought?  Let me know if you see any subtle acts of generosity at the businesses you frequent...